Cole Watson’s Training Approach for Western States
The first official Western States Endurance Run was held in 1977 and is known to ultra-runners as the “crown jewels” of races. More commonly known as the Western States 100, this foot race takes place along the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, starting at the base of the Olympic Valley ski resort and finishing in Auburn, CA. Due to its increasing popularity, in 1981 a lottery system was put into place along with a handful of ways to gain “automatic” entries. The most competitive way to be selected into the latter category is by winning a Golden Ticket, where the top two individual finishers (men and women) run in the HOKA Golden Ticket Races.
Spring Team Athlete Cole Watson’s primary goal in 2021 was to obtain a Golden Ticket at one of these events. He trained hard, worked hard, ran hard, but placed 3rd, 5th and 3rd at the Bandera 100k, The Canyons 100k, and the Javelina Jundred respectively. Although his finishes did not earn him a Golden Ticket, his sponsor HOKA, who he has been partnered with since 2016, awarded him the Sponsorship entry for 2022.
How did you start running, trail running and eventually ultra-running?
I grew up in Oregon close to the trails and have been running since middle school. As a kid I did team sports, but in high school I just focused on running and later at the University of Oregon I ran the 800 meter and 1 mile. After graduating I decided to try some longer road stuff, ran a half marathon, and qualified for the Olympic Trials. Around the same time, I was working at the local running store with my buddy David Laney (another Spring Athlete) and we both coached at a running camp for high school kids. I got lost during a run, and ended up running a little over 30 miles, which was really my first ultra-experience. After that I decided to try a trail race, signed up for the North Face 50k and won with a time of 3:48:32. So I ended up passing on the Olympic Trials.
Have you run the Western States before?
No, I actually just ran my first 100-mile race, the Javelina Jundred in October 2021. Thankfully I live super close to Auburn, so I can train on the WS course daily. This has helped to boost my confidence since I know the course so well.
What is your training like for WS?
I am coached by Ryan Ghelfi, who I have been working with since 2015. Ryan will also be one of my two pacers for WS. I am still figuring out the second one. Nutrition wise, for the most part I don’t do any special diet when I train. I just eat what I know will work. I do the gym and sauna about 3-4 times a week, which is important for heat training since it is known to be 95 degrees or hotter on race day. So, a typical training day for me could be a run that includes a certain amount of vertical gain that is course specific to WS, followed by weights at the gym and finishing in a dry sauna. When I am about 12 weeks out, I will do double workout days, with the second workout being an easy run later in the day. My longest run will be 30 miles, with 20 and 30 milers about once a month. I also plan to attend all the Western StatesTraining Camps that the race puts on. They are just a great way to experience the course over a 30-day weekend with a great community of people.
How do you balance work, life, family, and training?
I really don’t do too many social events. My wife and other family members are ultra-runners so they understand and that helps a lot. My wife and I do a lot of our long runs together. We also live right on a bike path, so I can just go right out the door for a run and not have to drive far. For work, I am an online running coach, so I have a very flexible schedule.
What is your nutrition like on race day?
I don’t do anything special. I start with oatmeal, a bagel with peanut butter, a banana and just one cup of coffee. In the beginning of the race, before it gets warm, I eat more real food more often, such as a quesadilla or a sandwich. Once it starts to get hot, I switch to Spring gels, since they are a more compact, simple form of real food, and easier to swallow since it’s so hot. The temperature will determine my nutrition during the day. I also do a lot of liquid calories, but I don’t do Coke unless I am in the “danger zone” or towards the end of a race. The only caffeine I take are in the Spring gels and of course I take salt tabs every couple of hours.
What are your goals for Western States?
My main goal is to finish, but I really want to finish in the top 10 so that I can do it again next year.
Rapid Fire Questions:
Current go-to shoe: Hoka Clifton
Favorite distance to run: 100k
Favorite place to run/explore: Idyllwild, CA
Race you haven’t done that you really want to race: Tarawera 100k
Favorite non-running thing to do: Fishing
Favorite Spring Flavors: Awesome sauce is by far the best one. I never get sick of it. I like the Hill Aid and Speednut a lot too.
Thanks for giving us some insight into your life and training Cole! We'll be cheering you on!
Photos by Jocelyn Watson (@spunkylilpip)
Interview by Spring Team Manager Isabella Janovick